The Greatest Magician by Lynsey May

The Greatest Magician I Ever Knew by Lynsey May was first published in Gutter 14 as part of our Spoken Word Issue. You can listen to it here:




The Greatest Magician I Ever Knew


Now I don’t want you to think I’m the kind to go spilling secrets. Not really the done thing in this line of work, but there does come a certain point in the evening, that post show witching hour, right about now actually, when a nice cold drink does tend to loosen the tongue. Here’s the deal, you promise to hit the bar in the next five minutes and I’ll teach you a card trick or two. Not good enough? Well then, get me a double and I might just tell you about the greatest magician I ever knew.

Now talking about Eric, it’s thirsty work, so don’t be stingy with the shots and before we start, it’s best you know that there’s those folk who’re drawn to magic for its subtle skills and intricacies – and those who simply love to lie. Don’t you be sitting there judging, not ‘til you’ve felt the thrill of fooling a room of people who think they can’t be fooled. There’s nothing better, not even sex.

But magic, it’s as fickle as any bedfellow I’ve had. It’s not all applause and beautiful, baffled faces in the audience and there’s been plenty of nights I’ve crawled home burning with shame, fingers still fidgeting from a fluffed trick. But you don’t even have to screw it up to be a failure these days.

Do you know how many shows there are in the Fringe? Do you know how many promoters and performers crawl away from Edinburgh with their tails between their legs and their pockets scraped empty once August ends? Have you tried competing with a fucking iPhone? Half the folks that do pay for tickets sit there, tinkering away, square eyed and immune to wonder. It’s enough to make a girl cry. That’s the thing though, isn’t it, you need to have a thick skin when it comes to magic – and young Eric, well.

We met three years into my career at a shady little venue in Edinburgh’s old town, back when I was just starting to make a name for myself and there were folks still saying I’d go far. Not at that gig though. It was a battle of the bands style affair put on for the Festival – five minutes to show your shit and an audience vote to get through to the next stage, not my cup of tea at all.

I never even watched poor Eric’s set, so pissed off was I with my ‘wham, bam, no thank you ma’am’ reception. But we ran into each other slinking out the back door, and what can I say?, history was made. We repaired to the pub and that shy boy and I spent many hours putting the world of magic to rights. And then, well, we did what any two young people would do on a cold night filled with disappointment.

Of course, we put off showing each other our wares until we’d had a good few nights of shagging. It’s a vulnerable thing, trying to trick someone who knows what you’re doing, and I was right to be reticent because that boy had the slickest hands and most graceful manipulations I’d ever seen. Once the show and tell was over, we were right back to bed.

Partnering up was only natural and I’ll admit it, he seemed a shy and bumbling thing then, but I knew, like so many of us woman do, that with a little bit of guidance, he’d end up a great man. And I thought it was worth it didn’t I, because over our many long hours putting a show together, hitching from city to city, gig to gig, I learned the secret behind his astounding sleight of hand. Little Eric, only three years old, contracted an unusual disease that kept him confined to a hospital bed for 11 long, lonely years. What better way to amuse yourself than learning how to make the nurse’s dreaded syringe disappear before her very eyes? The wee lamb. And there it was. I was already hooked, but that story had me lined-and-sinkered too.

To my mind, those hospital shows were the root of his shyness and I worked out ways to disguise it and showcase his slickness instead. Because you and me both know, it’s not just what your hands are doing, its what you’re eyes are saying, what your throat is crooning – that’s where the money is.

A few months with me and his shyness was a thing of the past and our show was drawing crowds like you wouldn’t believe. We weren’t just local any more. We were doing the rounds, London, Berlin. There was even talk of New York. No matter that I was relegated to sidekick, this was what dreams are made of. Not that it lasted, no trick lasts forever.

After a year or two at the top, he became known as a magician’s magician – as skilled as they come, but old fashioned with outdated card tricks and a passé smiley assistant. We could both see the way the world was turning, people didn’t want deft hands and quiet magic, they wanted bloody levitating, sword wielding superheroes.  We had a slot at Euro Disney, that pushed him over the edge. Drunk afterwards, he howled over the lost art and I knew then it was the beginning of our sorry end.

I still say though, Eric was the greatest magician I ever knew. It’s not just the skills he perfected or the tricks he wrote himself, it was something much tougher to share. And I’m only sharing it now because the Eric I knew is no more. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t crawl back to his hotel room and garrotte himself with a string of silk ties, although there were times I thought that was where we were heading.

No, all those years I was convinced Eric’s problem was that he didn’t know how to lie, they were the years I was in the dark. Eric is no more because Eric never was.

The bloke’s name was Richard when he met me outside that scabby Edinburgh theatre and it’s Steven Sword now. You might have seen him on telly. If not, you can look him up online later – who am I kidding, Google him on your phone right now, why don’t you? I’ll not blame you. His story’s always going to be better than mine, because it turns out, the little bastard never was in hospital, never was a shy young man, never was someone needing love and care and compassion to bring him out his shell. He never was any of those things. He was a magician just starting out who needed a sexy assistant and a helping hand getting a foot in the door. Clever him, found a fool to give him her good name and do it for free.

Steven Sword might be drawing the crowds in New York, and you folks with your Googling, you’ll have found plenty of claims he’s the best in the business, but I’m here to tell you it’s not Steven with his flashy tricks that’s the greatest. It’s Eric who disappeared my knickers and my prospects in the blink of an eye. It’s Eric who showed me how an illusion can become a life. And it’s Eric who will always be the greatest magician I ever had the misfortune to know.